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A Sumerian Alabaster Rectangular Bowl, Early Dynastic IIIa, ca. 2600–2500 B.C.

MV1703

A rare alabaster dish with a rectangular rim, circular bowl, square bottom, two engraved lines running around the rim, and decorative cuts along the edges of the exterior.

Background:  Because clay was the most abundant material found in the Mesopotamian valley, stone had to be imported due to its rarity in the area. Alabaster (calcite), gypsum, lapis lazuli, limestone and marble were the most popular imports. Sumerians traded crops grown from their fertile soil for the stone, as well as metal and wood. The growth of powerful ruling families in urban centers led to a demand for luxury goods, particularly stone votive objects mainly used in the temples and tombs such as the famous Royal Graves at Ur (ca. 2500 BC).  The durability of stone, as well as the time and effort that went into creating vessels and other votive objects increased their value over clay and their popularity throughout Sumer.

During the 3rd millennium BC, the gods were vastly important to everyday life. Gods "owned" specific cities; Innana, for example, owned Uruk.  The temples where the gods were worshipped were more like complexes or estates than individual buildings. There were several buildings for worship and ritual functions, as well as more functional spaces such as breweries, kitchens, agricultural fields, grazing land for animal herds. These were all used to grow and prepare food, drink, and offerings to the gods.  Artworks and votive objects were used both in rituals and dedicated to the gods by high class donors. Other votive objects and works of art were created in order to accompany the deceased to the afterlife and bring them closer to the gods.  

Reference:  Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. “Early Dynastic Sculpture, 2900–2350 B.C.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.

Aruz, Joan, with Ronald Wallenfels, eds. "Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus." New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Dimensions: Height: 1 2/16inches (3 cm), Length: 3 3/4 inches (9.5 cm)

Condition:  Intact and in very good condition overall.

Provenance: Private NYC collection, acquired 1970s-1980s, ex. Sotheby's New York, lot 285 (part), with original auction tag.


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